« IndietroContinua »
For the Christian Spectator.
Unhappy instance of conformity to the world.
We are assured from the most respectable authority, that the following account is strictly true.]
M. was a brilliant character. Her
rson was attractive, and her mind and heart were capable of receiving and retaining the most refined sentiments of polite education. She possessed the advantages and all the qualities necessary to find acceptance, and hold an important place in the society in which she moved. Pleasure and admiration attended wherever she went. At the age of twenty, her heart was impressed with the truths of religion, and she soon afforded clear and decisive evidence of a work of grace. She turned from lying vanities to the pursuit of heavenly wisdom, and, for a time, sound great joy and peace in believing. Unhappily, however, she began to feel that the world was too good to lose. It held out flattering prospects, and worldly people wished for her society. She resolved to be a christian, but she also resolved not always to appeal such. She would go with the world to the extent of what she deemed, christian hberty, but would be the more careful to maintain piety in the closet.
We hardly need assert that the comfort of M. gradually declined. She wished to make a public profession of her faith, but she wished for better evidence of her piety, and wondered where was the blessedness of which she once spake. At the end
of two years, an affecting event led her to consider more attentively her true situation, and she was humbled in the dust to perceive where she had been, and what she had been doing. She seemed to herself to have received the grace of God in vain, to have abused his mercy and grieved his Holy Spirit; but she determined again to return unto the Lord. With purpose of heart to new obedience, she confessed Christ before men, again found tranquillity, and walked as a child of the light and of the day. Her heart glowed with love, and she seemed to be taking up the cross and following Christ. She found ready acceptance with the pious, her powers found better, and higher employment, and she promised fairer attainments than others in a devout and holy life. But her besetting sin, though quieted, was not subdued. It became clamorous for indulgence, and she would yield a little and little, to induce its quietness. She became afraid of differing too widely in opinion, habits, and pursuits, from those with whom she associated. She would not go to the full extent of worldly pleasure, but she would show complacency in it. She was naturally cheerful, animated, intelligent, and she now contributed by her conversation a full share of pleasure and instruction in the social circle. She wished to maintain her influence, imagining that thereby she might win some to the cause of truth, not aware that instead of recommending her religion, she was only recommending herself; and that it was the absence of piety which gained her success. She was vainly striving to unite the irreconcilable interests of earth and heaven, not willing to lose the one, and determined to keep her hold upon the other; not considering that the world is the stronger party, and that the kind hearted reformer is more likely to become conformed to the world, than the world to be allured to embrace religion. We followed her through a series of experiments and trying conflicts, till her health began to decline, chiefly from the pressure of mental exertion, which her delicate frame could not sustain. Those who honour God, he will honour. We saw her fast declining, and greatly feared her sun would set in darkness. No one doubted her piety, but she had not suffered it to shine, and it continued clouded in her own mind. The solemn hour of death seemed doubly solemn. She feared to appear before her God, and she felt, at times, as much distress as she could possibly endure. She was awakened to see clearly that conformity to the world had been the bane of her peace, and had well nigh proved her ruin. She had intervals of light through the valley, which had else been of intolerable darkness, and we saw her, as we doubt not, sleep in Jesus, though barely sustained by the hope that her sins might be forgiven her. C. L.
[From the Christian Instructor.]
Anecdote of the late Rev. John New
Two or three years before the death of thiseminent servant of Christ, when his sight was become so dim, that he was no longer able to read, an aged friend and brother in the ministry, now living, called on him to breakfast. Family prayer succeeding, the portion of scripture for the
day was read to him. It was taken out of Bogatsky’s Golden Treasury: “By the grace of God, I am what I am.” It was the pious man's custom on these occasions, to make a short familiar exposition of the passage read. After the reading of this text, he paused for some moments, and then uttered the following affecting so. liloquy —“I am not what I ought to be Ah! how imperfect and defi. cient l—I am not what I wish to be! I ‘abhor what is evil,” and I would “cleave to what is good!’—I am not what I hope to be l—Soon, soon, I shall put off mortality: and with mortality all sin and imperfection! Yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was—a slave to sin and Satan; and I can heartily join with the Apostle, and acknowledge; By the grace of God, I am what I am! Let us pray !”
People of the living God :
Lonely I no longer roam,
Tell me not of gain and loss,
Review of Pamphlets on the Unitarian Controversy.
(concluded from page 149.)
2. Unitarians are chargeable with exalting reason above Revelation. The present controversy has seldom come before the public without more or less dispute respecting the legitimate use of reason in deciding the chief questions in debate. We have complaints on this subject from both Mr. C. and the Reviewer.
... The principles adopted by the class of Christians, in whose name 1 speak,need to be explained,because they are often misunderstood. We are particularly accused of making an unwarrantable use of reason in the interpretation of Scripture. We are said to exalt reason above revelation, to prefer our own wisdom to God's. Loose and undefined charges of this kind, are circulated so freely, and with such injurious intentions, that we think it due to ourselves, and to the cause of truth, to express our views with some particularity.—p. 5.
Wid. also Rev. p. 382.
Mr. C. proceeds to shew the necessity of employing reason in the interpretation of Scripture. With the general course of his remarks, Mr. S. fully agrees; nor do we suppose that the divines in New-England would hesitate to subscribe to the principles laid down by Mr. C. to the same extent in which Mr. S. has done. Had Mr. C., had the Reviewer, faithfully adhered to that use of reason which the sermon prescribes, we should have found little cause for complaint. So far however is this from being the fact, so unequivocal are the proofs of an unwarrantable use of reason in the interpretation of Scripture furnished by these writers, and so much do the main questions in controversy depend on the true principles of interpretation, that we feel bound to notice this part of the subject.
We do not consider it as a crime, but asanindispensable duty,to employ reason in the interpretation of the Scrip
tures. We do not charge Mr. C. and the Reviewer with the right use of reason, and of thus coming to results inconsistent with the truths of the divine word. We do not charge them with rejecting on the authority of reason, what they believe to be the true import of the sacred volume. But we maintain that they exalt reason above revelation, by rejecting the true inport of the divine declarations on the authority of reason, when its decisions, through perversion are erroneous, and when through incompetence they are unauthorized. The principles of interpretation by which the Trinitarian import of texts is rejected will be seen in the following extracts. Mr. C. says,
These latter passages we do not hesitate . to modify, and restrain and turn from the most obvious sense, because this sense is opposed to the known properties of the beings to whom they relate; and we maintain, that we adhere to the same principle, and use no greater latitude, in explaining, as we do, the passages which are thought to support the Godhead of Christ.—p. 23.
When it is considered, that the term, God is sometimes applied in the Scriptures to men and higher beings, who in authority or other circumstances resemble the supreme God, we shall see that we have authority for explaining the term with a degree of latitude in the text under consideration.—p. 48.
The Reviewer has discussed still more extensively the subject of interpretation. He says,
The state of the case then, as far as it regards the interpretation of these passages, we conceive to be this. Our oppo. ments quote certain texts, and explain them in a meaning which, regarding only some particular expresions in these texts, goes to support their opinions. We explain the same texts in a very different meaning; and believe our sense to be the true one. The words, considered in themselves, will perhaps bear either meaning, that of our opponents, as well as our own, We will at least concede, for the sake of argument, that this is the case. In what manner, then, are we to decide which meaning is the true one How are we to determine, whether the meaning in which
we explain any passage, or that which is put upon it by our opponents, is the sense which was intended by the writer —p. 405.
After specifying some of the principal causes of the ambiguity of lan
guage, he says,
But where the words which compose a sentence are such, that the sentence may be used to express more than one mean: ing, its true meaning is to be determined solely by a reference to Extrinsic consider Ations, such as we have stated. In the case supposed (a case of very frequent occurrence) all that we can learn from the mere words of the sentence, is the different meanings which the sentence is capable of expressing. It is obvious that the words, considered in themselves, can afford no assistance in determining which of these different meanings was that intended by the author. This problem is to be solved solely by a process of reasoning, founded upon such considerations as we have stated.—p. 409.
He then cites several examples of the figurative use of language, two of which are from the Scriptures, viz. John xi. 26, and vi. 53, and to the inquiry why we do not understand these texts literally, he answers,
Solely because we have such notions of the chaiacter and doctrines of our Saviour that we are satisfied that he would not teach any thing irrational or absurd ; and that the declaration in question would be very irrational, if understood literally with out reference to the doctrine of transubstantiation ; and altogether absurd, if suposed to imply the truth of this doctrine. t is upon the same principle, that we interpret a very large proportion of all the figurative language which we meet with. We at once reject the literal meaning of the words, and understand them as figurative, because if we did not do this, they would convey some meaning which contradicts common sense; and it would be inconsistent with our notions of the character of the writer, to suppose him to intend such a meaning—pp. 411,412.
He further says,
Upon the principle just stated, we may reject the literal meaning of a passage, even where we cannot pronounce with confidence, what is its true meaning. The words of our Saviour just quoted, are an example in point. One may be fully justified in rejecting their literal meaning, who is wholly unable to determine their true meaning—p. 412.
To render our cause as it would seem hopeless, he lays down the foliowing principle.
But these considerations are in our minds of so much weight, as to render it certain, that the Trinitarian exposition of every genuine passage of the New-Testament is false. Their force can be avoided only in one way, not by proving, positively, that the words will bear a Trinitarian meaning—for we have, all along, for the sake of argument, gone upon this supposition— but by proving, negatively, that it is impossible they should have been used in any other than a Trinitarian meaning;that the words will bear but one sense, and that this is the only sense, which they could have been intended to express.pp. 413,414.
The first of these principles of interpretation which we shall notice is, “that we may reject the literal meaning of a passage, even where we cannot pronounce with confidence what is its true meaning.” That there may be cases to which this principle is applicable, we readily admit. But we maintain that to warrant its application, there must be some peculiar circumstance which shall mark the case as an exception to the ordinary mode of speaking or writing. For example our Lord made declarations which he designed should not be understood at the time, but be explained by subsequent events. The ordinary design however, of speaking and writing is not to conceal our meaning, but to be understood, and the general rule is to be determined in reference to this fact. When therefore it is apparent that the writer intends to convey his meaning clearly, and is obviously competent to make it clear, then we are not authorized to reject his literal meaning unless we can clearly perceive some other to be his real meaning. The mere fact that a word has been used figuratively, is not of itself enough to decide that it is thus used, in a particular case. An apparent falsehoood or absurdity is not enough to prove that an assertion is to be understood figuratively; for the writer may have designed a falsehood, or he may have been ignorant of what we know, or he may know more than we, and be qualified to pronounce us under a mistake in our supposed knowledge. The supposed infallibility of a writer in connexion with the known absurdity of a literal meaning of his words, is not enough to authorite a figurative interpretation; for language is capable of a definite meaning, and the evidence that a literal meaning, though absurd, is the real meaning of the speaker, may be greater than the evidence on which we rest the belief of his infallibility. So obviously just is this principle, that the most distinguished Unitarians, maintaining the absurdity of the literal meaning of Trinitarian texts, and yet being fully persuaded that it was the real meaning of the writers, have actually denied their infallibility. This measure of infidelity deserves at least the credit of consistency. We grant that the known absurdity of a literal meaning creates a presumption that a speaker designs to speak figuratively, and we are naturally influenced by such a presumption to inquire whether the words convey a definite meaning figuratively interpreted. If they do, the case is plain, we are to reject the literal and adopt the figurative import. If they do not, the speaker is convicted of absurdity and his authority must be given up. On no other principle is language capable of expressing absurdities, nor can any man, not even a Trinitarian, be convicted of uttering absurdities. We have a striking illustration of the unsoundness of the principle of Mr. C. and the Reviewer, in the application which they make of it to the doctrine of transubstantiation. They maintain that the literal import of the texts, which are supposed by the Catholic to teach this doctrine, is to be rejected solely on the ground of its absurdity, in connexion with the character of Christ. But this princi. contains an assumption which eaves christianity open to the assaults of infidelity without a defence. The infidel concedes nothing to the authority of the speaker, and yet without as
suming that authority, the Unitarian has no means of exempting the declaration of Christ from palpable absurdity. The infidel claims, and justly claims, that we shew the declarations in question not to be absurd by shewing independently of the speaker's authority, that they have some other than a literal meaning. But this the Unitarian confesses himself unable to do. Thus the very principle which Mr. C. and the Reviewer adopt to confute the Catholic, tends to confirm the infidel in rejecting the revelation of God; and on the supposition that there are many such cases, (and these writers seem to suppose that there are) we see not why they are not obliged to yield to the infidel a complete triumph. The fact is, that both the Catholic and the infidel are to be met on the same ground, viz. by shewing independently of the authority of the speaker, that the language of our Lord does admit and require a figurative meaning. We have thus attempted to shew that the absurdity of the literal meaning of a writer is not, in itself, proof that it is not his real meaning, and that such absurdity being known, with no evidence existing of a figurative meaning, simply goes to discredit the writer's authority. Would Unitarians then use their reason as not abusing it, instead of discarding the Trinitarian interpretation of texts solely on the ground of its absurdity, they would seel obliged to deny the inspiration of the sacred writers or the truth of the God who inspired them. Another principle of interpretation adopted by Unitarians is, that the figurative use of language especially of the term God, authorizes a figurative interpretation of that term when applied to Christ. We regret that when Mr. C. and the Reviewer have so strenuously insisted that the usus loquendi authorizes us to attach a figurative meaning to the term God as applied to Christ, that they should not attempt to substantiate the assertion by adducing instances in point. It belongs to Unitarians to shew that